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Changing Philosophies Mean Changing Fields

by John Manuel
June 3, 2004

The NCAA Division I baseball committee doesn't just change members from time to time. It changes philosophies with those changes in membership.

In 1999 and 2000, the first years of the 64-team field, Le Moyne athletic director (and former baseball coach) Dick Rockwell served as committee chairman, and made it a point of stressing the committee's charge to expand college baseball.

"We can't just have the best 64 teams," Rockwell once said. When Rockwell's committee had the chance to put teams from the North into the field of 64, or to have Northern teams as regional hosts, it took advantage of those opportunities. Notre Dame was never a regional host until 1999, a year that also saw regionals at Ohio State and Wichita State. In 2000, Rutgers played host to a regional, while both the Big East and Big Ten conferences had three teams earn postseason berths.

Clearly, it's not Rockwell's committee anymore. The last two chairmen, Texas A&M's Wally Groff and current leader Charlie Carr of Florida State, come from power conferences and football schools. And the committee reflects the shift, with Bowl Championship Series conferences dominating the baseball tournament.

In 2000, the last year Rockwell was chairman, the Southeastern Conference had just six regional teams; now, the league expects eight bids as a sort of birthright. It happened three of the last four years, including last year, when Florida received a bid despite not qualifying for the SEC tournament.

That was just setting the stage for 2004, when the committee awarded the SEC nine bids, with Mississippi State being awarded one of 34 at-large bids despite a 13-17 conference record. Joining the SEC at the big conference regional trough were the Atlantic Coast, with six of nine teams receiving bids (even though two other league teams combined for eight ACC wins); the Pacific-10, with five regional teams for the first time since 1997; and the Big 12, with six bids--all three leagues tied their records for most tournament berths.

Combined, baseball's four power conferences gorged themselves as never before, providing 26 of the 64 teams. In contrast, the '99 field Rockwell and his committee put together included just 21 teams from those conferences, and the 2000 field had just 20.

But as I said before, times have really changed.

Boomers Would Ruin Sooners

Oklahoma earned a spot as a regional host site. The Sooners were just 37-22 entering the tournament--a modest record for a host--but they finished 19-8 in the Big 12, just a half-game behind the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, Texas.

However, OU's Dale Mitchell Field isn't up to regional-hosting snuff these days, so Oklahoma usually puts in a bid at SBC Bricktown Ballpark, a wonderful venue in downtown Oklahoma City. The park has served as the Big 12's tournament home in the past and was a regional site in 2000.

This year's bid also was for Bricktown, even though the Triple-A Oklahoma RedHawks were scheduled for home games on the Saturday and Sunday of the regional. Somehow, when the issue was brought to the committee's attention the morning regional host sites were announced, they didn't seem to know.

NCAA director of baseball operations Dennis Poppe said the committee was not aware of any possible conflicts with the regional; apparently, the committee didn't have Internet access, because a quick check of the RedHawks' schedule would have shown the conflict.

As BA went to press, regional games for June 5 were scheduled for 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. That's running up to a 7 p.m. Triple-A game that night.

That's also assuming the games all run less than three hours and there are no weather delays. It's surprising the committee would allow such scheduling for a regional, especially the same weekend that the NCAA Women's Softball College World Series had games disrupted and delayed due to 80 mph winds and hail storms.

Of course, the home of the WCWS is Oklahoma City.

Let us know how it all turns out, OK?

Making Us Look Good

A few years ago, Baseball America put its first list of the nation's top assistant coaches in the country together. Georgia Tech's Mike Trapasso went to the top, due in part to the "loss" of Southern California's John Savage to the ranks of head coaches. Savage had just been named to lead the resurrection of UC Irvine's dormant program, so we listed him at the top of our head coaches under 40.

Following Trapasso on the assistants' list were the likes of Tulane's Jim Schlossnagle, Clemson's Tim Corbin and Notre Dame's Brian O'Connor.

Trapasso was the first of the assistants' group to move into the head coaching ranks at Hawaii, closely followed by Schlossnagle at Nevada-Las Vegas, then Corbin at Vanderbilt and then O'Connor this year to Virginia.

All of them have either turned around a program (or two, for Schlossnagle) or built one from scratch, as with Savage. With the exception of Trapasso, whose Rainbows improved to 31-24 but fell short of a regional bid, the rest of the group is headed for the postseason.

Savage needed just three years of Division I play for his Anteaters to earn an at-large spot, as a No. 2 seed at that. O'Connor took only one season at Virginia, a school that nearly killed its baseball program in 2001. Now, the Cavaliers are a No. 1 seed and a regional host. Corbin's Commodores, who advanced to the SEC tournament championship game, are the No. 2 seed at the Virginia regional with their first bid since 1980.

Finally, there's Schlossnagle, old hat at these turnarounds. He took UNLV to the Mountain West Conference title last year, then left for Texas Christian and led the Horned Frogs off the tournament bubble. TCU had just missed regional berths each of the last two seasons, but it won the Conference USA tournament this spring to end any speculation.

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